Starlink, part of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, informed a number of individuals in India on Tuesday that it will be refunding their preorders, more than a month after New Delhi told the firm to stop “booking/rendering the satellite internet service” in the South Asian market without obtaining a license.
In an email to those who had preordered Starlink in India, the company said it was “looking forward to making Starlink available in India as soon as possible,” but it currently doesn’t have clarity on the “timeline for receiving licenses to operate."
“As has always been the case, you can receive a refund at any time,” the company wrote, outlining the steps to avail the refund.
Starlink had received over 5,000 preorders for its devices in India and was looking to conduct pilots in the country. Last year, the company appointed an India head, who reached out to several stakeholders in the country to explore ways to collaborate.
In late November, the Indian government told the company, which competes with Bharti Group-backed OneWeb and Amazon's Kuiper, in a public statement that it needs to comply with the regulations and refrain from taking preorders "with immediate effect."
Starlink, which had shipped over 100,000 terminals to customers, sees India as a big potential market. Sanjay Bhargava, the India head of Starlink, said last year the company had plans to deploy over 200,000 active terminals in over 160,000 districts in India by the end of December 2022.
“At Starlink, we want to serve the underserved. We hope to work with fellow broadband providers, solution providers in the aspirational districts to improve and save lives,” he wrote.
Even as more than half a billion people are online in India, just as many are still offline. According to industry estimates, hundreds of millions of Indians living in rural areas don’t have access to any broadband network.
“The government approval process is complex. So far there is no application pending with the government, so the ball is in our court to apply for consideration, which we are working on,” Bhargava said at the time.
“Our approach will be to get pilot approval quickly if Pan India approval will take long. We are optimistic that we will get approval for a pilot program or Pan India approval in the next few months,” said Bhargava in October, cautioning that if it fails to get the government approval, the actual number of terminals it may end up deploying by the end of next year will be “much lower than that or even zero.”
Update: Starlink India head steps down.